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Customary and Informal Justice

Customary and informal justice (CIJ) describes justice and conflict resolution mechanisms that operate outside the formal system of state-based laws and courts. CIJ encompasses a range of solutions from traditional and indigenous systems to local alternative dispute resolution. CIJ systems are often more cost effective, accessible, and trusted compared to formal systems; they tend to emphasize restorative justice, flexible rules and procedures, and negotiated solutions that are culturally resonant. At the same time, some CIJ practices are inconsistent with international human rights standards and reflect unequal power dynamics and conservative social norms, with adverse effects on women and other excluded groups.

IDLO is committed to engaging with the diverse pathways available to justice seekers, especially women and other excluded groups, strengthening the accessibility, responsiveness and accountability of CIJ providers, and ensuring that these cooperate with formal justice systems. We seek to promote innovative approaches, generate knowledge and influence policy in ways that centre CIJ in the global justice agenda.

IDLO has taken a leadership role in the global Working Group on CIJ and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16+, a unique coalition that includes a broad array of actors, from UN and other intergovernmental agencies to grassroots justice defenders and community groups, and advocates for the centrality of diverse pathways to justice in achieving SDG 16. In 2023, the Working Group published Diverse Pathways to People-Centred Justice, a landmark report articulating a new consensus on the need to engage with CIJ actors and practices in efforts to enhance access to justice and strengthen the rule of law. It will serve as a basis for further multi-stakeholder collaboration on CIJ policy and programming at the global level in the years ahead.

 

IDLO's Publications on Customary and Informal Justice:

Issue Brief: Women’s Participation and Leadership in Customary and Informal Justice Systems

The majority of justice seekers worldwide resolve their problems through customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems. Women constitute the largest group of users of CIJ systems for diverse reasons and rely on them for resolution of their justice problems.

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Diverse Pathways to People-Centred Justice

Globally, most people do not resort to formal justice systems to address their justice problems. Rather, they rely on diverse pathways to justice often referred to collectively as “customary and informal justice” (CIJ).

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Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice

Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice explores how community-based paralegals and other legal aid providers can strengthen the accessibility and inclusiveness of customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.

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Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers

Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers reviews structural, procedural, and normative dimensions of justice in six Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centers in Somalia, documenting insights from ADR Coordinators, Clerks, paralegals, and Adjudicators as well as users of the Centers.

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Issue Brief: Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems

Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems focuses on the relationship between women and customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.

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Policy and Issue Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems

In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16.

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Practitioner Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems

In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16. This Practitioner Brief offers a set of concrete tools, recommendations and good practices to support engagement with customary and informal justice systems.

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Strengthening the link between formal justice and traditional dispute resolution

While showing steady progress, the formal justice system in Somalia remains fragile. Somalis continue to use traditional dispute resolution (TDR) mechanisms to resolve conflicts in their communities due to their physical accessibility, low cost and legitimacy in the eyes of local participants. The TDR system has the potential to improve access to justice in Somalia, but at the same time informal justice can reinforce forms of discrimination and support practices that do not comply with international human rights standards.

Overcoming Land Disputes and Strengthening Women's Customary Rights

​In June 2015, IDLO commenced the project: Researching the Impact of Land Tenure Registration on Land Disputes and Women’s Land Rights in Burundi.

Land Tenure Registration (LTR) programs involve issuing proof of ownership to holders of land rights to increase their legal certainty. Such programs are undertaken for a variety of reasons. While much is known about the impact of LTR on factors like access to credit and agricultural output, there is a gap in knowledge of its impact on land disputes, particularly in post-conflict settings.

Mali's 'Justice FM'

Mali’s crisis of 2012-2013, in which two-thirds of the country was occupied by Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists, was accompanied by brutal rule in the North and a near-collapse of the state. Many victims have yet to see redress for the abuses they suffered; justice remains elusive.

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Key Initiatives

  • IDLO is rolling out a program that aims to secure accessible, quality and sustainable justice services for citizens - particularly those living in rural, poor and other disadvantaged communities. The Community Justice Programme (CJP) supports both state and non-state legal aid, legal empowerment and other justice delivery interventions.
  • Achieving Justice For All
  • Lack of access to a fair and equitable justice system is one of the most pressing problems confronting modern Somalia on its path towards stability and reconstruction. Rebuilding Somalia’s formal justice system is a highly challenging, complex, and long-term undertaking. In fact, there have not been any effective formal justice institutions in the country for over two decades.
  • In 2012, the Federal Government of Somalia took office with international backing after two decades of warfare. Since then, the government has developed a National Stabilization Strategy (NSS) to address enduring areas of conflict in the country with ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ reconciliation and clan-conflict reduction strategies. While commendable for its multifaceted response, there is a recognized need to improve rule of law at the community level.
  • While showing steady progress, the formal justice system in Somalia remains fragile. Somalis continue to use traditional dispute resolution (TDR) mechanisms to resolve conflicts in their communities due to their physical accessibility, low cost and legitimacy in the eyes of local participants. The TDR system has the potential to improve access to justice in Somalia, but at the same time informal justice can reinforce forms of discrimination and support practices that do not comply with international human rights standards.
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